The culture of human sacrifice is said to be rampant in many African countries, including Nigeria, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Swaziland, South Africa, and several others.
These practices involve the hunting down, mutilation, and murder of the most vulnerable members of the society, particularly children, people with albinism (a genetic skin disorder), and the handicapped.
Unfortunately, most of these cases go unreported largely due to the secret nature of the ritual sacrifices and naivety of the people involved.
Many people in the communities where these practices are held have accepted them as a part of their tradition and do not report them to the relevant authorities.
Law enforcement agencies and human rights defenders have had a hard time dealing with these killings mainly because they touch on deep-rooted cultural underpinnings that often bring about the ideological rift between cultural beliefs and practices and the respect for human rights.
Human sacrifice is defined as the act of killing one or more human beings as an offering to a god and as part of a ritual. The victims are usually killed in a ritualistic way that is meant to appease the gods or the spirits.
This practice has been in existence throughout history, with some historians claiming that it is associated with Neolithic and nomadic cultures before the emergence of civilization.
In many African communities, human sacrifice was done for a number of reasons, but mainly it was intended to bring good fortune and to appease the gods.
For instance, some African communities offered human sacrifices to celebrate the completion of a new building, such as a temple or a bridge.
In modern times, witch doctors are said to use human body parts, especially from albinos, to bring luck and wealth. In fact, the black market for albino body parts is said to be booming in countries, such as Tanzania and Malawi, with their graves usually violated and sold to witch doctors.
People with albinism in these countries have been forced to seek refuge in rescue centers or flee to neighboring countries.
Action Against Human Sacrifice in Africa
Many lives have been lost and continue to be lost in Africa through this loathsome cultural practice. It’s no doubt a regressive culture that has played a major role in dragging the African economy backward.
That’s why many governments across the continent are adopting new and stringent measures aimed at curbing the vice.
In Tanzania, the government has been very tough in combating this menace, with the police carrying out regular crackdowns on unlicensed traditional healers and witch doctors.
In 2015, Tanzanian authorities arrested more than 200 witch doctors and herbalists across the country and charged them with several crimes, including murder and human trafficking. Each suspect was ordered to pay $75,000 for every complete set of albino body parts found.
In March of the same year, a Tanzanian court sentenced four people to death, after they were found guilty of killing an albino woman for purposes of selling her body parts to witch doctors.
But despite the numerous arrests and prosecution of people involved in this heinous practice, human rights activists in the country are worried that the trend is nowhere near the end.
Reports of people with albinism being attacked are still dominating headlines in Tanzania and Malawi, even as the two governments continue to speak tough on the issue.
Human rights defenders have called on African governments and the international community to ensure that all vulnerable people, including albinos, are fully protected and decisive actions are taken against their attackers.
There is also the need to educate people about the dangers of human sacrifice and discrimination against people with albinism.
African countries, where human sacrifice and other ritual killings are common, need to adopt new legislation that will outlaw these practices and ensure perpetrators of such crimes are dealt with accordingly.
While the right to one’s religion and belief is a fundamental freedom, human sacrifice and ritual killings are not permissible under the African Charter, meaning any person or community practicing it must be fully prosecuted.